A film of unreconciled impulses, Breathing is by turns vaguely sentimental and cooly detached in a manner that’s ultimately more off-putting than it is complementary. In one scene, an undertaker wins 10 euros from a colleague after correctly guessing that our protagonist, a juvenile delinquent named Roman (Thomas Schubert) forced to work in a morgue as part of his parole conditions, has seen a dead body before. Others are set to jazzy basslines that simply don’t jibe with the monochrome visuals. The early morning blue in which much of this Vienna-set film is bathed works well as a mood-setter, but too many of the actual events on-screen are either superfluous accentuations of that mood or unconvincing departures from it. Writer-director (not to mention actor-turned-filmmaker) Karl Markovics aims for self-aware humbleness but lands quite a bit closer to blandness instead. At times, the peripheral relationship between Roman and his parole officer calls to mind a similar dynamic in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Son, minus the allegorical heft—a flatness that, while hardly objectionable, still feels like a missed opportunity. That said, there is an extended shot of Roman walking parallel to a moving train—the initial backward thrust, then the lurch forward—that’s as well-crafted as it is gently affecting. It’s as though Breathing‘s intended balance between simplicity and emotional resonance got bottled up into one brief scene instead of evenly dispersed throughout.

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